“Our school had probably every single AP class that you would ever want to take or need to take… All of the super academic, excelling students would have taken all of the hardest classes, but I never felt the pressure to take the hardest classes,” says Daniel Min, one of the 5.68% of applicants admitted to UPenn. Class president, Boy Scout, swimmer, and Key Club governor Daniel Min shares how he got into Penn’s Wharton undergrad business program without tutors and consultants, while opting out of SAT/ACT, choosing regular classes over Honors, scoring 3’s on AP tests, and writing his UPenn essay the night before the deadline.
- The personalized message from UPenn’s admissions officer explaining why he got in
- Why he chose to take easier classes at school despite the competition and why it’s okay
- His exact template and tips for requesting strong letters of recommendations that got him into Wharton
Daniel, thanks so much for joining us. What happened when you found out you got into Wharton at UPenn?
I had absolutely no expectation of getting in. It wasn’t just an, “Oh my gosh, I don’t think I got in”; it was just a dead-set, “I know I didn’t get in, so I will just open this up with no expectations at all.” I had gotten into USC the week before, and USC had been my dream school for years now. I’d already done all my research into that school, and when I got in, I was like, “Okay, good. I’m done with college now.” And so, when I clicked it, I was completely shocked. I clicked it and then saw the acceptance letter. I was just excited and confused at the same time just wondering how I got in, because — this is no exaggeration — I literally started writing them the night before the deadline for UPenn, which is why I was so dead-set that I wouldn’t get in. I barely put in any effort. The only reason I applied in my head was that it didn’t hurt to take a chance, and also I like to do interviews, so if I submitted that application, I’d get some interview experience. I told my parents, and they were extremely happy
Why were you so sure that you wouldn’t get into UPenn?
I guess it was also seeing so many people raise the bar of what an Ivy League student is. When you look at an Ivy League student, you think that they’re academically excelling in every way; they take every AP test, and they’ll all get 4s and 5s on every AP test that they take. Or they’ll have the most rigorous classes available at their high school.
In comparison to your idea of the Ivy League standard, where do you think you stood?
I’d never gotten a 5 on an AP test yet, either. I took four AP tests, and I got two 3s and two 4s on those tests. When I was applying to Wharton, Wharton alone is an extremely competitive school. I’m very involved in business clubs on my campus. I did business-related things, but I didn’t take the route of what a business student would take. So I guess I didn’t think I fit the Ivy League profile.
If you were to put yourself in the shoes of a UPenn admissions officer, what do you think got you in?
I was involved in a lot of leadership roles. For UPenn, when you get in, the admission counselor writes you a letter. They write about what’s unique to you. My admissions officer wrote, “Daniel, congratulations. We were extremely impressed by your involvement in Key Club, Boy Scouts, class presidency, student body and swimming.”
Tell me more about your involvement in all those activities.
I was the district governor of California, Nevada, Hawaii Key Club, which is a really big segment of our Key Club. So I was the president of the three states of Key Club, and I was the class president. I was really involved in Boy Scouts. I’m still working towards my Eagle Scout right now. And I was in swimming. I had a lot of leadership roles, and I think that’s what made me stand out. Although I wrote my supplemental essays the night before for UPenn, my Common App essay I had refined a lot. When I read over that essay, I really liked it.
Can you share what you liked so much about your college essay?
I wrote about me working for this one specific business, and I talked about how I worked there and I put in a lot of work into this business. Essentially, to sum it up, I was kind of scammed. I put in my hours, and I didn’t get paid for a certain amount that I deserve to get paid for. When I approached my boss about it, the boss said, “Oh, you should have brought this up a long time ago. Why are you bringing this up now? How do I know that you’re not lying?” Essentially just trying to gaslight me and make it seem as if it was my fault that I didn’t get paid. From there, I got so fed up, and I quit. I talked to my dad, got some advice, and then quit.
That’s such a personal story. How did you organize it in a coherent way?
That story was the first half of my Common App essay; I wrote about that experience. And then the second half was a reflection of that experience: a reflection of how I felt, what did that made me feel. The thought that I was getting scammed made me feel unproductive; it made me feel as if I didn’t trust them. It just made me not be able to put my all in, because who wants to really put in their 100% for someone who isn’t giving them 100% of what they deserve?
How did you connect your negative experience with this business owner with what you want to do in the future?
I wrote my perspective on how I want to practice my business ethics. I wrote about the common terminology that business is dirty and that I think it’s a stigma, but it doesn’t always have to be like that. You can pay your workers properly and maybe even more than what they deserve, build that trust and build it for the long term. And that’s how I want to function. Although the business world is considered to be dirty, I want to be a businessman or a business owner who doesn’t practice that stigma and works to combat it.
I love how you used only the fist half of the essay to share the experience but the second half to reflect. Which resources did you use to learn how to write your college essay?
I think what students get too caught up on is finding the perfect story that sounds good. I remembered after that happened, I was so angry. Anger just filled my heart in every way towards that company. Whenever I heard the name, something would flare up in me where I would just get so angry. Those emotions stayed with me for such a long time, and that really impacted how I’m going to function and how I’m going to learn to trust people in the future. And so I just wrote about the moment that impacted me the most, not necessarily the thing that sounds the best, because when I worked there, that wasn’t me being a leader; I was just a worker.
What were other essay ideas that you considered?
I could have written about my class presidency, a huge event that I planned, or I could have written about Boy Scouts or anything, but I knew that that story about my own ethics probably represents the best version of myself. It talks about who I want to be as a person, it talks about what kind of person I became after that. And that wasn’t a small moment, either. I remember talking about it with my dad a lot. When I was brainstorming topics, there were other ideas that came up. Key Club was my biggest involvement in high school, so I was debating on writing about that. But then I thought that I would have a much better time writing this essay on my ethics. And the best essays are the essays that you have a good time writing.
You mentioned your dad a few times and how your family was so happy about your UPenn acceptance. Can you share a bit about your upbringing and how that might have contributed to your acceptance to Wharton?
My dad works; my mom works around the house. My dad has always been a very strong advocate for a higher education because he never graduated. And that decision haunts him to this day: that if he did have a college degree right now, we would be living such an easier life. He was a business person as well. He had a lot of prospects in business, but he said he didn’t manage his money properly and that when he was young, he was dumb and made reckless decisions. And so he says that no matter what you want to do, you can do these business ventures, you can go out and start your own company, you can go out and do art or whatever, but always have a college degree to back that up.
How does your dad’s heavy emphasis on higher ed differ from the messaging you hear outside of your family?
Now, there are a lot more articles and entrepreneurs saying, “You don’t need to go to college, you don’t need to do that.” I had a little phase where I was like, “I don’t want to go to college. I don’t want to do this. I’m just going to start a business,” or “I’m just going to do an internship or something.” But then eventually, I still applied to college, so I’m here now. My dad really drilled that I needed to go to college. He never really pushed me to go to a top college. My parents were very pushy about the SAT and the ACT, but luckily, that got cancelled, and I never took the SAT and ACT, so that was a big relief on my end. But in terms of my extracurriculars, my parents never pushed anything on me, and I did everything that I enjoyed in high school.
Speaking of your extracurriculars, can you share what your high school environment was like and your involvement outside of class?
Our high school is a public high school. When I looked at our demographics chart, it was 60-something percent Asian American. So there were many highly driven students at our school. Our school had probably every single AP class that you would ever want to take or need to take. I never found it too rigorous, but the competition was definitely very, very up there. If you wanted to, you could stack your classes with 12 APs by the end of your senior year.
How did your high school’s rigorous and competitive environment affect you as a student?
Going to high school in that environment made me more ambitious. I remember in the beginning of freshman year, I was so college-driven, as in, “I want to do everything that I can to look good for college from the beginning my freshman year.” I signed up for everything that I could, and then eventually I did none of those things. I started to narrow down my list a little bit, and I joined Key Club, and Key Club was fun, so I started getting involved in that.
Then I realized that Key Club wasn’t just like a club; it like stretches up to division, and then it goes up to the state level, and then it goes up to the international level. I stayed in that. And then I also ran for class president my freshman year. I won my freshman year, and I did that for the next four years. The competition in the community in really did impact me. The standard where I could consider myself to be “good” or “enough,” was really high. If I went to maybe another school that wasn’t as competitive, where the average GPA was lower, then maybe I would have thought getting all Bs was enough for me.
Being in such a competitive neighborhood, did you ever feel pressured to use tutors or college consultants to keep up?
I never really asked for a tutor, so in any academic subject or whatever it was, I don’t think I ever had a tutor in high school. We never hired a college counselor either, probably because we wouldn’t have the financial support to get all of those. But throughout high school, I never felt that much pressure to do as well as my peers or feel behind my peers. I just did my own thing. At Key Club, I was in my own bubble, class president, I was just head-down, I just did whatever I needed to do. That was more than enough to stand out in my school.
Knowing all the commitments you had in high school from student government to Key Club to Boy Scouts to swim, how did you manage your time?
My time management was not the best in high school, but I did utilize Google Calendar a lot. Our student body was called USB, United Student Body. When our USB teacher said anything, like, “This event is coming up,” I just jot that down in my Google Calendar as soon as possible. But in terms of taking on individual tasks, I just did it whenever I felt like it, as long as it was before the deadline. I thought that was enough. But there was a lot of times where I fell into the hole of procrastination.
Was procrastinating common among your classmates?
It felt as if people around me were working way harder than me. But in high school, if you are the kind of person to compare yourself to others, there are people that will make themselves, especially in a competitive environment, sound a lot better than they actually are.
What’s an example of your classmates making themselves sound better than they are?
Sometimes I would say something and it would just sound so impressive, but it would not actually be impressive at all. My friend would ask me, “Hey, what did you do yesterday?”, and then I would say, “I just attended a meeting with some Key Club leaders, and then I did some research on how to plan for this upcoming event,” while really, all I did was do two Google searches and sit in a 30-minute meeting. This is a little bit of advice for anyone reading: Don’t take everyone’s words at face value, because you never know how exaggerated or how under-exaggerated something could be.
You said several times that you didn’t use a tutor for academics despite the competitive environment. How were your stress levels as a high schooler?
When I look back on my high school experience, I don’t look back at it as, “Oh my gosh, that was so stressful; I’m so glad I’m out.” I don’t think it was the worst. I did get a 4.0 GPA, unweighted. But there were options where I could have taken harder classes, and I just decided not to. Freshman year, there was an option between Algebra 2 or Honors Algebra 2 and Trigonometry. I was like, “Oh, I’m just going to take Algebra 2.” Junior year, I didn’t take AP US History, and then I didn’t take Calc BC either. There were a lot of times where I knew my limits, or just didn’t really want to push my academic rigor too much. Even though it wasn’t too stressful for me, I knew what classes were within my range. All of the super academic, excelling students would have taken all of the hardest classes, but I never felt the pressure to take the hardest classes. I just did what I knew I could do.
That’s really forward thinking of you. What contributed to your ability to look ahead and know that you didn’t want to stress over the most rigorous courses?
Sophomore year, I took one AP, which is AP European history, and pretty much every sophomore takes that. That’s the test I got a 3 on. Junior and senior year, most academically excelling students will take four or five AP classes, but I decided to not take AP US history, because in AP Euro, I just did not have a good time memorizing all the history. So I was like, “Man, I’m not going to do that again.”